“This bill upholds the core value that animated the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson — the value that says education, the key to economic opportunity, is a civil right. With this bill, we reaffirm that fundamental American ideal that every child, regardless of race, income, background, the zip code where they live, deserves the chance to make out of their lives what they will.” — President Barack Obama upon signing the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the 2015 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, establishes civil rights standards for educating students from historically underserved populations — such as children of color, students with disabilities and those learning English as a second language — receive the resources they need.
Not every state is meeting its obligations, however.
The National Urban League reviewed the plans states are required to submit to the federal government, outlining how they will meet their commitments to ensure equity and excellence to every student and every community. We found that only nine state plans qualified as “excellent.”
We reviewed plans in the 36 states and the District of Columbia where Urban League affiliates are located.
The review comes at an important time in our history. The landmark 2016 election marked a shift in conversations about race, socioeconomic status, and the systemic impact of these social markers on the experiences of people across the nation. With Education at the forefront, advocates and stakeholders are looking critically at what states have committed to do for students and how they are going to do it.
The nine state plans identified as “excellent” are Colorado, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Kentucky, Illinois and Rhode Island. These states are off to a strong start making the most of opportunities to further advance equity with some areas for improvement and a small number of areas deserving urgent attention.
The eight state plans identified as “poor” are Virginia, Florida, Arizona, Georgia, Missouri, Kansas, Michigan and California. These states missed opportunities to further advance equity in a majority of areas with several areas needing urgent attention.
The other 20 states, rated “sufficient,” were adequately attentive to opportunities to further advance equity while missing several opportunities, all of which having a few areas deserving urgent attention.
The report cards are not meant as an or analysis of a state’s school system on the whole. Rather, they identify the extent to which states have addressed specific equity concerns, such as breaking the school-to-prison pipeline, expanding access to early childhood education, cultural competence training for staff and disparate per-pupil spending in their state plans.
For example, California — one of the states ranked “poor” — makes little mention in its plan of out-of-school learning. It sets the number of students of students needed to form a student subgroup for federal reporting and accountability purposes unreasonably high. The definition it uses for “consistently underperforming schools” is not specific enough to identify any schools for additional support under the law.
On the other hand, Louisiana — one of the states ranked “excellent” — has set a goal of 63.5 percent of students proficient in reading and 56.5 percent of students proficient in math by 2025. That’s double the current rates, and it has set the same long-term goals for each “subgroup” of underserved students. Louisiana is also tackling the school-to-prison pipeline, targeting schools with unusually high suspension rates for support and improvement.
These are just a few examples of what went into our evaluation of the plans. You can check out each state’s detailed report card along with our policy recommendations for improving education equity at www.naturbanleague.org.
Morial is president of the National Urban League.